When an adult cannot manage his or her personal and financial affairs because of age, cognitive disability or other special needs, a loved one can establish a conservatorship in California. A conservator is similar to a legal guardian and takes responsibility for the individual’s care and well-being.

These are the answers to common questions about California conservatorship laws.

Who can request a conservatorship?

A person can name his or her own conservator when the court determines that he or she has the cognitive capacity to do so unless the named person does not have the individual’s best interests in mind. When a person cannot nominate a conservator, the court will appoint the following family members in order of preference:

  • Spouse or domestic partner
  • Adult child
  • Parent
  • Sibling
  • Public guardian named by the state

How do I start the legal process?

File a petition with the court that includes details about the individual, your relationship to that person and why a conservatorship is the best option for his or her care. Submit the required paperwork with the filing fee and court investigator fee and/or a fee waiver. The court clerk will schedule a hearing date.

You must give the proposed conservatee and his or her close relatives written notice of the court date and petition. At the hearing, the investigator will discuss the person’s health and mental state with the family so the judge can determine whether a conservatorship is necessary.

How long does a conservatorship last?

Usually, a conservatorship is permanent, especially when the person in question is an older adult. However, the court will review the terms every few years to ensure the arrangement remains in the person’s best interest. Anyone involved with the conservatorship can request an end to the arrangement if the individual’s condition improves.

When your loved one has an accident, develops dementia or otherwise becomes unable to care for his or her own affairs, careful planning can help protect legal rights.